MacGregor

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CHAPTER ONE

The old dugout crashed out of the reeds, sending half-a-dozen swamp hens racing across the lily pads for cover. One of them was too slow and when the prow butted into it, the bird took flight, bursting up into the girl's face.

As panicked as the bird, the girl swerved, jamming the boat's broad nose into the spindly roots of a mangrove.

She lashed frantically about with her paddle, trying to get free. The girl slapped at the water, the reeds - everything and anything to get unstuck from those roots. The boat splayed this way and that, ike a trapped manatee trying to escape the sharp blades of a propeller.


 
 
Engines suddenly roared somewhere behind the girl. And Marie, who was no more than thirteen, stifled a cry, then dug deep into the water to finally break free.

She back-paddled a few strokes, then shot forward, her fear-powered arms making the leaky old boat fly across the lake's surface like a water skimmer chased by wide-mouthed bass.

The engine roar grew louder and the girl paddled harder, but this time she didn't panic. Drawing on all her strength, she fought for calm, concentrating on her task. She was a strong little girl - a shrimper's daughter - and her small hands were calloused and sure from four years at her mother's side, fixing nets and cleaning shrimp.

She kept the dugout straight and true, even though the paddle's edges were as rough as the old gutting knife her brother put under his bed every night for the tough men who came around to take an


 

 

honest shrimper's earnings.

The shore was just ahead - beckoning with its muddy banks and thick tropical foliage that could hide a child like Marie from her pursuers.

Then the airboat crashed out of the reed thicket behind her, riding high and fast over the swamp grass that had tangled Marie's paddle.

There was a tough young Latina woman steering the airboat and when she spotted Marie she shouted at her boyfriend, a scrawny, sunburned Florida cracker:

"There she is, Tampa!"

And Tampa, whose eyes were much sharper than his wits, swiveled his ropy neck, low forehead


 

 

 furrowed under sweat-streaked hair, until he finally fixed on the dugout and the girl.

"Gotter, Bonita! Pour it on, honey!"

Bonita poured it on, feeding so much Texaco joy juice to those twin Chevy engines that they lifted the airboat right out of the water and sent it surging after the girl.

Marie heard the airboat closing in, but didn't waste breath crying out. She put her fear into paddling - aiming for that quickly approaching shore.

Behind her Bonita had the airboat moving so fast and so sure that she jumped the vessel over a grassy hummock as smoothly as a big gator going for its prey.

Even so, Marie was strong for her size and determined enough for anybody's size, and she drove that 


 

 

old dugout to shore so hard that it jammed into the mud bank.

She didn't hesitate a second, bounding out of the dugout to hit the ground running.

First she sprinted for the brush that lined the trail. But the brambles were too sharp and thick and she fell back, sobbing, her bare arms cut and bleeding.

Bonita skidded the airboat into the shore, sending up a wave that nearly sank the dugout.

Marie whirled and raced down the dirt path that circled the lake, looking for a way through the heavy foliage.

At the airboat, Bonita throttled back the engines and bumped against the bank. Tampa jumped and scrambled onto the path.


 

 


"I'll cut her off, hon!" Bonita shouted and spun the airboat around to race along the shoreline.

Tampa sprinted after the Marie, who was a good fifty yards ahead - his long, skinny legs quickly closing the gap.

Marie heard Tampa's booted feet getting closer and she dug into the last of her reserve to put on a burst of speed. Gradually, she pulled away. Off to the side she heard the airboat skimming along the bank. But Bonita had to stay with the boat and couldn't get at her.

The girl rushed toward a gnarled log lying across the path. As she started to jump the log suddenly came alive. The front end turned toward her and split in half, exposing enormous rows of white teeth. It was a big gator and as it turned it hissed and lashed its tail.


 

 

Marie was too scared to scream. She started to back away, then she tripped and with a small cry tumbled onto the ground. She heard the hissing gator coming and then Tampa's long shadow fell across her.

Marie looked up and saw the skinny redneck draw his .45. He took careful aim at the gator, then fired. Slowly. Once... twice. And it was over. The reptile grunted and died.

Tampa leaned over and grabbed the girl by the wrist with his free hand.

"Gotcha," he said, laughing.

But Marie fought him, kicking and flailing.

"Now cut that out," Tampa said, shaking the girl. "Didn't I just save you from that mean ole gator?"


 
 
"Marie was far from grateful. She sunk her sharp teeth into his wrist and Tampa howled in pain and fury.

"Goddamn, you little skunk ass!" he bellowed.

He threw the girl to the ground and raised his pistol.

Behind him, Bonita had beached the airboat and was hurrying over to him. She saw what Tampa was about to do.

"Tampa, don't!" she shouted.

He was so furious that he paid her no mind.


 
 
Tampa fired - Boom! just like that.

Not one second of hesitation.

Bonita ran up. She looked down at Marie's body. Then up at her redneck boyfriend. She sighed a sigh of weary resignation and Tampa was suddenly embarrassed. He hung his head. Just like a little boy, Bonita thought.

"Oh, Tampa, sweetie pie," Bonita said. "What did you do, hon?"

"I couldn't help it, Bonita, baby," Tampa whined. "She went and bit me."

Bonita sighed again. "That just cost us five hundred dollars, baby. Didn't I tell you we needed a new septic tank for the RV park?"


 
  Tampa started to get irritated. "Okay, okay," he said. "Geeze, Louise! I hate it when you bug me about money, hon."

Then he looked down at the girl and shrugged. "Least she won't bite no more."

Chapter Two

The Jeep boomed down Ocean Boulevard - stereo blaring a rap song, a topless blonde standing in the seat, twirling her bikini top over her head, while she whooped and hollered and gave all the drivers an eyeful.

Beside her an earnest young black kid squirmed in his seat, hands gripping the wheel, scared spitless and begging the girl to sit the hell down.

"Goddamn, Kim," he moaned. "We're supposed to start rehab tomorrow morning!"

But Kim just kept on shaking her stuff. "Come on, Jean!" she shouted. "Last day to party."

All around her four lanes of young men leaned out of their cars to cheer Kim on: "Go, baby, go! Take it all off!" And that sort of thing.

Horns blared, tires squealed and more than a few fenders were bent as Kim wriggled to the beat.

A police siren howled into life and Kim's companion jolted up to see the red gumball light rotating in his rear view mirror.

"Oh, man!" Jean moaned. "Uncle Mac's gonna shit nickels!"

And then it was instant panic city time as Jean mashed the accelerator and sped away, the police car in hot pursuit and Kim doing an amazing balancing act, twirling her bikini bra and swiveling her hips.

***

A mile or so up the coast, tucked between the Red Reef Golf Course and a million-dollar-a-unit condo complex, was an old beach house.

Three weathered stories staggered up the high grassy bluff that bordered South Ocean Boulevard and ran down in a series of dunes to the sea. There were railed sun decks circling each floor of the house and a wide sundeck planked across the roof.

The face of the house was all windows, set in old-fashioned frames that gazed out at the warm seas of the Atlantic. To the left of the stairs were several red-flagged wire barriers put there to protect sea turtle nests. The posted barriers were required by State and Palm County laws.

Few Boca residents objected, just as they didn't object to the city ordinance requiring all beach dwellers to douse their outdoor lights at night during the hatching season. The lights, it seemed, led the baby turtles astray as they swam for the starry horizons programmed in their genes.

Normally, a sailboard rested in the sand to the right of the stairs, but on this particular day the yellow and black striped board with its opaque yellow sail was swooping gracefully through the surf. It carried a tall, tanned man, with an athletic build, hair streaked by the sun and experience and pale blue eyes set deeply under furrowed brows. He wore faded red boxer trunks and was leaning far out over the water, coaxing his board through the waves.

This was the "Uncle Mac" Jean had predicted would "shit nickels" when he found out what his wards were up to. He had a lot more names than Mac. Addison Mizner Flagler Titus Broward MacGregor could also be added. There were others. So many, Mac liked to say, that if they were "laid end to end we'd have one helluva orgy and mass arrest."

It seemed that Mac was related to just about everybody who was anybody of historical interest in the state of Florida - from ex-governors to ex-horse thieves.

His mother's maiden name was Mizner - for the Addison Mizner who created Boca Raton out of a swamp and then promoted it shamelessly until it became one of the most exclusive beach communities in the world.

His late father, Frank MacGregor, was a descendant of a soldier of fortune who in 1817 briefly replaced the Spanish flag in Florida with his own.

Despite this background, Mac was not a man of vast wealth or property. Nor did he covet same.

Besides the historic names and the old beach house and its contents, about the only thing of value Mac possessed was the fugitive Jeep that was racing toward him with the police in hot pursuit.

Mac shifted position on his board and glanced over at the house, wondering how much time he had before lunch.

On the lower sundeck he could see the small figure of Stormy, his housekeeper, and the even smaller figure of her granddaughter, Leslie. The two were energetically sweeping the deck, working their way toward the glass doors that led into his den.

Good. He had time to play a little longer.

Mac came about, let the wind catch the sail, and bounded over a rolling wave...

 
     

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Last Revised: January 29, 2011